by Basil O. Bristow, 11th Hour Volunteer
Friday afternoon I received a call from the Hospice Volunteer Center; a client was dying and 11th Hour teams were needed. I was able to cover the 6-10 a.m. time frame on Saturday at a local Assisted Living home.
When I arrived,the patient, whom I’ll call Mary, was comatose but, in my normal voice, I introduced myself. Her breathing was fast and raspy and her unfocused eyes, although blinking occasionally, were half closed and gazed towards the ceiling. I lowered my voice and continued to speak what I thought were comforting words. About an hour later her breathing changed dramatically to a slow, shallow non-rhythmic beat. Suddenly her eyes shifted, and fully focused, she looked directly at me, and I held her hand and continued speaking both silently and softly to her.
About 8:15 a.m. I opened the drapes that were covering her window and discovered that it was a beautiful day – blue sky, no clouds and a gentle breeze that moved the bushes and trees that could be seen from her room.
I told Mary what a beautiful day it was and described what I was looking at. I softly suggested that it was a beautiful day to go home.
Shortly thereafter Mary’s breathing changed again – many long intervals between breaths, still holding her hand I quietly suggested that all was well and that she had nothing to fear.
At 8:45 a.m. Mary took her last breath. I called for the staff and they took over.
A full hour before my shift was due to be relieved I left the facility and went home to breakfast. Saturday is normally my responsibility to take care of household chores. On this Saturday I did nothing. I simply went out into my garden, sat on my bench, listened to the water gurgling in the fountain and looked at that blue sky. I heard myself saying – “What a beautiful day to go home!” All day I kept saying that.
As I looked at the cloudless, wall-to-wall sun shine sky, I thanked God for allowing me the privilege of helping Mary to go home. I mused, I pondered no great thoughts; I simply totally relaxed in a kind of mini-vacation.
I realize that we all have different abilities and being an 11th hour volunteer is not for everyone. But, for me, I gain far more insight into life than simply sitting with a dying patient for a four hour shift – helping people to go home; especially on a beautiful day, is indeed a privilege.
Raquel Cervantes was born in Mexico, but spent most of her adult life in Chicago. Although she has lived in the U.S. for 39 years, she spoke almost no English at her waitress job or at home with her family. After her husband’s death she moved to Ocala to be closer to her sister. That was three years ago, and today, Raquel is creating a new life...and learning a new language.
Encouraged by friends Janet and Howard Smith at the College Road Baptist Church, Raquel decided to start meeting new people by volunteering at the Hospice Thrift Store in Belleview. However, the language difference was a barrier so she signed up for the English as a Second Language class at the church, which happens to be taught by Janet and Howard.
The invitation to volunteer at the thrift store was two-fold, says Janet: “We thought this experience would quickly help her improve her English because of the communication with customers and other volunteers. Her bright energy is a big help and we love having her with us at the store.”
The Smiths were right. Raquel has been volunteering with Hospice of Marion County since 2006. She assists the cashier with packing and bagging items for customers. Her native language is particularly helpful when dealing with several of the regular Latino customers. “I enjoy talking to people and helping them,” says Raquel. “Hospice of Marion County has been wonderful to me and I look forward to seeing all my new friends and co-workers.”
In addition to her volunteer work and church activities, Raquel spends time gardening and decorating her home. “I get a great deal of pleasure from flowers and working in my yard.”
The call is open at Hospice of Marion County for energetic people who want to learn and serve others like Raquel, Janet, and Howard. Currently, the Hospice of Marion County volunteer corps numbers 700 dedicated individuals who contributed more than 60,000 hours a year.
Thrift Store volunteers assist the managers staff in a variety of ways. Sales associates are provided specialized on-the-job and customer service training. In addition to working in the Thrift Stores, Hospice of Marion County volunteers support care by making in-home visits, nursing home visits, bereavement calls and performing office duties, as well as event support at fundraisers. All volunteers are required to attend a 20-hour Orientation session, which is a great learning experience. Hours are flexible; seasonal volunteers are also welcome. Call the Volunteer Office at 352-873-7441 to learn more or visit the Web site at www.hospiceofmarion.com and click on the Volunteers tab. Click on the English-Spanish cell in the upper right corner of the page to change languages.